Coachella Exemplifies the Worst of Music Culture
There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. It is an area which we call: music festivals.
These immense gatherings of like-minded people have occurred for over half a century to serve the common purpose of connecting people with the music they love so much. But over these past few decades, music festivals have taken a rather abrupt diversion from the true, eightfold path. Now, I am not some purist hipster who thinks the only good festivals are the one with clogged Port-O-Potties and mountains of mud. There is a certain amount of technological advances that should be taken advantage of, rather than suffering just for the sake of a more “authentic” experience. But there are festivals that go so over the top in their efforts to minimize the amount a person must mentally and physically separate from the outside world that the experience becomes something like a vacation resort. It’s akin to people who hunt in heated lookout towers with deer feed dispensed on command to bring the animals to you, much like Hank and Bobby’s experience in King of the Hill. And there is no better festival that represents the slow decay of the industry into its all-frills current state than Coachella.
I know the first qualm many critics will have with my assertion will be that Beyonce’s performance was one of the greatest shows they’ve ever seen. First of all, a summer music festival is not the Super Bowl halftime show. And half of the people that did see her performance live probably didn’t even know she was playing at Coachella until they got there. A frequent interaction I have with Coachella attendees epitomizes the symptoms of the mainstream fester. When they tell me they’re going to (insert giant, $300 festival here, usually Bonnaroo or Coachella) I’ll ask who’s on the lineup that they’re excited to see and nine times out of ten they’ll respond “I don’t even know who is on the lineup.” And that just sickens me, and should sicken every music lover. Music festivals have become the equivalent of mindless channel surfing.
It wasn’t always this way. Obviously the first thing many people think of when I say music festival is Woodstock 1969. That was Apollo 11 when man finally stepped foot on the muddy fields of music festivals. But I am in no way reminiscent of those days. Anyone who has ever been to a music festival or even camping will tell you how arduous the walk with all of their equipment is from just the parking lot, let alone three miles down the New York turnpike. But there is a compromise between three days of being naked in the mud with no food or water and coming to your pre-assembled campsite already stocked with food and private showers.
There are festivals that are still able to do this today. The only problem is that they are not the festivals that attract Beyonce or Eminem. The festivals that have managed to stay true to the original dream of the perfect festival are highly segregated to specific musical taste. Most notably the jam-band scene and/or electronic. Festivals like Summer Camp in Chillicothe, Illinois or Lock’n in Arrington, Virginia are festivals that are able to attract some of the biggest names in the scene but still attain somewhat of an independent innocence.
Now I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t one act at Coachella I didn't want to see. In fact there are several. Anyone who says they aren’t interested in seeing the return of Deevo is kidding themselves, plus David Byrne and plenty other acts you can’t see anywhere else. But that is the problem: commercialized festivals attract commercialized people. Obviously Deevo isn’t the same Billboard baby that Beyonce is, but they (much like Byrne’s Talking Heads) did enter the mainstream sphere. And those mainstream acts attract mainstream fans which attract mainstream promoters. And in that lies the problem: corporate sponsorships.
One of the major turning points in the commercialization of music festivals was them acquiring corporate sponsors. At first it seemed like a harmless idea, they can make the festival better if they have more money. But companies like Anheuser-Busch won’t just put their name on a festival for nothing. The first thing to go was the BYOB policies. Whereas you used to be able to bring in all the beer you want and drink it at liberty, now you’re forced to pay concert-priced beer the entire festival. Drinking $7 Budweisers is not sustainable for three days of constant music. But it didn’t stop there. Plenty of more rules came too like increased security checks, age limits for the festival, and some festivals that even charge extra for a wristband that allows you to drink the beer they’re selling you at exorbitant prices.
But if you don’t want to deal with Anheuser-Busch’s own brand of tyranny, there are also shady concert promoters who can help get things together. These are not the stoned hippies like Michael Lang of days of old. No these are people like Coachella organizer Philip Anschutz who uses your extravagantly-priced ticket to donate to anti-LGBT advocacy groups. So yeah, you got to see Beyonce’s performance that was all over the internet minutes later, but you also got to donate hundreds of dollars to conversion therapy.
There was a time when music festivals, and the music industry itself, had at least some semblance of purity. But those days went away with the eight-track tape. Now these festivals have become publicity events. Whether you’re dancing behind Robert Pattinson or happen to be next to a smooching Leo and Rihanna when the cameras start flashing. It’s essentially just seeing the timeline before it gets posted to Twitter. I wish they would just cut the cell service around the entirety of Coachella. Because these are the people who think, “if only I could’ve gotten Hendrix ‘Star Spangled Banner’ on my Snapchat story.”